The first session of this year’s Congress started with an overview of conservation work in Scotland. Our journey began with Dermot Patterson’s talk on the conservation of McEwan Hall, the original site of the congress venue before everything went virtual. We then zoomed out to the two World Heritage Sites that are Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns with Paul Lawrence’s talk about civil society’s interest in heritage in Edinburgh. Finally, the session ended with the entire country of Scotland and the work of Historic Environment Scotland presented by the director of conservation, David Mitchell.
While we missed out on enjoying McEwan Hall’s magnificence in person, Dermot Patterson’s rich descriptions and striking images gave us an immersive experience of the building. The conservation project of Patterson’s firm, LDN Architects, aimed to both extend the historic hall’s core functions and preserve its integrity and character. One way that the project enhanced the historic building is the switch to smart glass windows to be able to safely dim the hall for events. According to a participant in the chat, another example of these windows will be touched on later in the week in the preventive conservation session on Thursday with Historic Royal Palaces. Changes like this improve the liveliness and accessibility of McEwan Hall as a contemporary event venue while ensuring the original design and intentions of the building.
In the second talk, Paul Lawrence highlighted the importance of heritage to Edinburgh residents and introduced us to the various collaborators involved in their cultural heritage sector. In collaboration with the education sector, the City of Edinburgh Council has increased place-based education opportunities for the younger generation to connect with their local histories and, therefore, inform their choices on how the city goes forward in the future. Indicative of the Council’s care for contemporary concerns, Lawrence also spoke of attempts to understand and re-tell the city’s legacy as a result of conversations prompted by movements such as Black Lives Matter. Lawrence emphasized the Council’s dedication to the heritage sector and commitment to the preservation of Edinburgh’s history throughout the presentation.
The final presentation highlighted Historic Environment Scotland and their role of managing 336 properties and their collections throughout the country. David Mitchell highlighted the Engine Shed as a national hub where young people can engage with traditional methods and professionals can gain training in traditional skills. Historic Environment Scotland is also at the forefront of conservation science and technology and collaborates internationally on projects, such as the one they are working on at the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. One participant noted this is also where IIC-ITCC (International Training Course in Conservation) is based and recommends a collaboration in the future.
Many comments were made in the chat about the spectacular McEwan Hall and how grand it would have been to have been there in person for the conference. This session, if anything, was a fantastic showcase of Scotland, its commitment to conserving heritage, and encourages all to visit someday when it is safe to do so.
In the session chat, participants who have been directly involved in the McEwan Hall project and with the Engine Shed shared links to learn more. They can be found here:
Useful links to the conservation of McEwan Hall:
For more information on The Engine Shed: https://www.engineshed.scot/
Caitlyn Fong is a pre-program conservation student currently based in California, USA.
Brittany Wallace is an emerging conservator currently based in Colorado, USA.